In June, Apple announced Mail Privacy Protection for their Mail app on iOS 15, iPadOS 15, and macOS Monterey devices. In September, iOS 15 users will receive a prompt to either “Protect Mail activity” or “Don’t protect Mail activity.” This prompt will stop senders from using invisible pixels to collect information about the user. The setting prevents senders from knowing when contacts open an email and masks IP addresses so they cannot be linked to other online activity or used to determine a user’s location and build a profile on them.

Apple claims these updates are in the spirit of offering their customers heightened privacy and ultimately more control over their data. This is a trend seen from Apple within the past two years, along with capping the IDFA tracking on apps in the App Store and launching the Hide My Email service which allows users to sign into apps with an anonymous, unique email address, which then forwards communications to the user’s personal email.

How Email Marketing Is Impacted with the iOS 15 Updates

Historically, opens and open rates are used for evaluating your contacts’ interest in different content and your brand, increasing personalization and determining list hygiene and database health. Additionally, opens have a significant impact on deliverability due to mailbox providers placing a significant weight on opens in their spam filtering algorithms. According to ISPs, low open rates are a clear sign that your audience is not engaged with your brand or content.

Reporting

  • Open rates will be skewed and should not be used as a singular metric to determine if a campaign was successful. This approach to email marketing isn’t new, as open rates should not be your be-all, end-all reporting metric. Even if a contact opens your email, they still might not take action or fully read the content, impacting the true success of your campaign. It’s important to utilize other email engagement metrics to track the performance of your email campaigns.
    • While this setting is only available if contacts use the Apple Mail app to open emails, Apple Mail is the second largest email client with over 46% of all emails opened in 2020. (Litmus 2021)
  • Clicks and other contact behaviors (such as conversions), in addition to opens, will need to be used to determine database health. Typically, opens are relied on to know if contacts are interested in your content and remaining active with your brand.

Personalization & Optimization

  • Send-time optimization will not be available for Apple Mail contacts due to this update hiding when contacts open emails.
  • Open-time personalization creative aspects in templates will not be accurate and will potentially be broken. This includes all elements that use data from open tracking such as location, time and device.
    • Countdown timers will show the cached time when the email was sent, rather than when it is opened by a contact.
    • Weather widgets and store locators based on a contact’s location will be inaccurate for Apple Mail contacts.
  • A/B subject line tests that rely on opens to determine the optimal subject line will be inaccurate.
  • Contact list segmentation or targeting strategies based on last open date (reengagement marketing automation programs for example) will be inaccurate and need the criteria to be updated to focus on other engagement data. This is especially important for your processes that purge unengaged contacts.

Actions We Need to Take Now to Prepare & Evolve

  • Determine the volume of your contacts that use Apple Mail to read your emails to evaluate the potential impact on your email marketing efforts.
  • Utilize better, more impactful metrics that are tracked when it comes to email campaigns:
    1. Conversion Rate:  Define KPIs of success for each campaign. Ex: Email clicks to view a specific landing page, purchases of a product or completions of a survey/review.
    2. Unsubscribe Rate: A high unsubscribe rate (typically above 0.6%) indicates your contacts are not interested in your content. 
    3. Leads Growth: Determine if the rate of gaining new email addresses is higher than your unsubscribe rate.
    4. Website Visits: Utilize UTM values within email links to see the impact of your campaign within Google Analytics. Ex: Is there an increase in page views for a webpage included as a CTA in an email campaign? 
  • Review the default setting within your ESP for contacts that don’t have enough data to calculate send-time optimization. In some cases, the default time can be adjusted within the system.
  • Evolve segmentation and targeting strategies to use data shared by your contacts and other data sources that don’t rely on real-time location and device.